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A mystery prize atop Mount Washington led to a treasure hunt — with a twist

An Atlanta man told the Internet he’d hidden a mystery prize at the peak — and so the search was on.

An Atlanta man hid a mystery treasure in a crevice atop Mount Washington, and invited the Internet to search for it.Courtesy Photo

Thomas never intended to kick off a public treasure hunt on Mount Washington.

In fact, as the Atlanta resident steered his car up the twisty roads leading to New Hampshire’s tallest peak last month during a work trip, he only planned to leave a secret gift for a close friend at the summit as a bit of a joke.

When he arrived at the top, he wrapped the cylindrical object in a brown paper bag, nestled it in a crevice in the rocky Alpine Zone, sent the GPS coordinates to a group chat with some New England-area contacts, and headed back to Georgia. In a few days’ time, his friend was supposed to hike the trail to the waypoint and claim the prize.

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But plans changed, said Thomas, 31, who asked that his last name not be used, and his companion never finished the hike to where the mile-high treasure was waiting.

“So next thing you know, I have now littered at the top of Mount Washington,” he said. “I had two options: Either I leave it there and we all just forget about it, or I can make a game out of it.”

Not one to leave detritus behind, and feeling guilty it was still there, he chose the latter, turning to the Internet for help. On Aug. 23, Thomas posted about the treasure on a New Hampshire Reddit page with thousands of followers, setting off a peculiar hunt that welcomed anyone willing to accept the challenge — and locate the mystery object at a precise latitude and longitude — to claim it for themselves.

“Are you going to the summit of Mt. Washington anytime soon? Do you enjoy a scavenger hunt with a worthwhile reward? Then this quest might be for you,” he wrote.

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Soon, speculation about what he might have squirreled away took off. Was it one of the last remaining Choco Tacos? A product unmentionable in a family newspaper? He offered only a few vague hints.

As often happens in online message boards, a schism emerged: Some Reddit users were thrilled by the playful solution he’d found to his abandoned treasure problem, while others complained about littering on public land or said geocaching — hiding GPS-labeled gifts in nature for adventurers to find — is off-limits in New Hampshire state parks without the permission of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

“Lesson learned and won’t happen again,” Thomas wrote in reply. “Worst case is that I’ll go back up there to enjoy it before the winter months.”

But not if Eric Polaski got there first.

As the post climbed the ranks on the Reddit page, Polaski, 31, of Connecticut, became intrigued. He’d been planning to visit the mountain anyway, so he figured that if anyone was going to find the loot, it might as well be him.

Late last month, Polaski drove to the peak with his wife and mother-in-law, who was visiting from India and game for an adventure that would ultimately end with a twist.

After reaching the summit by car, they followed Thomas’s coordinates to a rocky expanse near a radio tower at the Mount Washington Observatory. Once a crowd of tourists huddled in the area cleared out, their search got underway.

They peered in and around the boulders for a few minutes, hoping that none of the hundreds of visitors the summit attracts this time of year had spotted the mystery treasure before them.

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“We weren’t really sure what we were looking for, just something out of place,” Polaski said. “It was my mother-in-law who spotted the paper bag between the rocks. And sure enough, it was heavy.”

They peeled open the bag, which was waterlogged, only to be greeted by the bright yellow label of . . . a 24-ounce can of Twisted Tea?

“We all had a good laugh,” said Polaski. “We had kind of talked about [what it could be] the entire time driving up. It made for a nice day.”

But there was still one mystery left to be solved: Why Twisted Tea, of all things?

A GPS-based treasure hunt on Mount Washington concluded when a visitor discovered the grand prize: A tall boy of Twisted Tea.Eric Polaski

Thomas said the beverage has a special significance to him and his friends, who bonded at Michigan’s Electric Forest music festival by swigging “tweas” at their campsite at all hours. (“You can have it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and it’s just as good,” he said).

Polaski isn’t quite as enthusiastic about the sugary, malt liquor-based brand, which is made by The Boston Beer Co.

“It’s pretty gross,” he said.

But he was still glad he took part in the quirky adventure. The chilly atmosphere at the mountain’s peak even helped keep his prize at a temperature he described as “five minutes out of the fridge” — which is exactly where the extra-large can is being kept until he decides to crack it open for a special occasion.

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“Anyone can go to a liquor store and pick up a tall boy,” Polaski said. “But this one? This one is special. It made a journey. I’ll enjoy it.”


Spencer Buell can be reached at spencer.buell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerBuell.